Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 6: The Creed
What do you understand by: ‘the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles’ Creed?’ And when can you truly say that you believe all the Articles of this Faith?
The simple statements of belief which are found in our creeds play a considerable part in the promotion of unity in the Church. Christian people do not often differ about the great and essential articles of faith. But the sharpest controversies generally arise out of some intricate points in theology, which are stated with as much boldness, and adhered to with as much obstinacy as if the salvation of the soul depended on their acceptance. A simple creed, expressed in few words, and embracing all the clear and undisputed doctrines of the Bible, constitutes a perfect bond of union, under which the whole body of believers in the Gospel may be gathered. This is what is called ‘the Apostles’ Creed,’ and it contains the articles of faith which everyone is required to profess their belief in, when presented for baptism.
The Apostle’s Creed
The Apostle’s Creed is a brief and comprehensive summary of Christian doctrine which contains every fundamental article of belief. It is not called the Apostle’s Creed because it is claimed that the Apostle’s actually drew up a form of profession or belief in precisely these words; there is no evidence of this. However as the form it takes and what it says is of very ancient date, it is reasonable to suppose that it may have been collected from articles of belief prepared for the use of the early disciples when they assembled for prayer, and for instruction in the fundamentals of their religion.
These articles of belief were, and are still, commonly recited in a standing posture, the main reason for this is in order to honour the Divine Majesty. It is also ancient custom, often continued today, to bow the head when pronouncing the name of Jesus Christ in the Creed.
Another Creed which is often used by the Church is the Nicene Creed which was drawn up at a later period of the Church, in order to refute the early heresies by which the true faith was corrupted. These creeds are both received and acknowledged in the Church, and the Nicene Creed, in particular, is held in high regard, because of the clearness and precision of its definition of some points of doctrine which are expressed only in general terms in the Apostles' Creed.
However the Apostles’ Creed is the one which is used in the baptismal service. This is probably because it contains the substance of the doctrines maintained and taught in the writings of the Apostles. It will be found, on examination, that every article or expression in this Creed can be traced directly to Apostolic authority. So we understand this Creed to be a brief and simple compendium of that faith which was taught and held by the inspired Apostles.
It is a summary of that ‘faith which was once delivered to the saints’, and for which the cotemporaries of the Apostles were charged earnestly to assert. It is therefore reasonable and proper that the Church should require every person who desires to become a member of the Christian family, to acknowledge a creed, or form of belief, expressed in a few simple and comprehensive words. This was the practice of the Apostles when they began to propagate the Gospel. They required those admitted into the Christian Church by baptism to make an open profession of their belief. This is strikingly exemplified in the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, who was taught and baptized by Philip: See, here is water, said the eunuch, what hinders me from being baptized? And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he was immediately baptized. (Acts 8:27-39)
Believing the Apostle’s Creed
Now a very important question that needs to be asked is whether we really can believe all the Articles of this Faith. It is quite usual to speak of a historical belief, or a speculative belief, rather than implying the true faith of the Gospel. A mere conviction of the understanding, that the facts recorded in the Bible are true, may be called a historical belief, and the conclusions drawn from a course of reasoning, may be called a speculative belief.
However it cannot be supposed that either of these are, by themselves, sufficient for the salvation of the soul. The faith, or belief, professed by the recipient of baptism, and alluded to by the Apostle, must be something more than this. If, with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation, (Rom. 10:10) this faith must be a dynamic principle, functioning far above a simple assent of the understanding, or a mere conviction of the reason.
It must produce, in the life and conduct, conformity and obedience to Gospel truth or it cannot be the kind of faith the Church requires in the baptismal covenant. To establish then whether you can truly say that you do believe all the articles of this faith, these articles must be examined in detail.
In the first place, you profess to believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But how do you believe? And what is the effect of this belief? Is it anything more than a simple acknowledgment that there is such a Being as God, without realizing to any extent a sense of his attributes and perfections? Or do you believe in his holiness and purity, in his justice and equity, so that you would not dare to sin against his infinite majesty, by irreverence or profanity, or any kind of disobedience? Next, do you believe in his benevolence and compassion to the extent that you would willingly confide in him, and cheerfully submit to every dispensation of his hand? Can you, at all times, look up to this Supreme Being as your Creator and Protector, and call upon him as a Father, and Guardian, and Friend, with the humble trust of a dutiful child? Do you feel compelled, by your love and reverence for him, to serve and obey him, and to devote all the faculties of your soul and body to his service and glory? These should be counted among the very least of the effects produced by a true belief in God the Father. Only these are sufficient to furnish a test of the measure of your belief in this Article of the Creed.
Again, you profess to believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord. That is, you believe the whole history of his miraculous conception, his wonderful birth, his sufferings, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into heaven. That these historical facts, relating to the Saviour, should be freely acknowledged as true is only natural. But how do you view this Saviour? Do you realize the necessity of his mediation, for the redemption of yourself and all mankind? Do you look on the blood of the Cross as the ransom paid for your own deliverance from sin and death? And do you feel a hearty desire to adopt all the benefits of this atonement to your own case? Are you willing to make it the great object of your whole life to secure these benefits? And when you further profess to believe that he will come again to judge the living and the dead, is saying this connected with a deep sense of your own personal responsibility? Does it draw your reflections forward to the day when you shall be raised from the grave, and when you shall stand, with the assembled universe, before the judgment seat of Christ? And does it inspire you as a lively and powerful incentive to make daily preparation for that day? You must see the vital importance of these questions. For, if your belief is not productive of the effects here suggested, it cannot be available to the salvation of the soul.
Again, you profess to believe in the Holy Spirit; and doubtless you are ready to add, in the language of the Nicene Creed, that: ‘he is the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who, with the Father and the Son together, is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.’ This is only a simple summary of some of the peculiar attributes and offices of the Third Person of the Trinity, as revealed in the Scriptures, and to acknowledge that he is the only Sanctifier and Comforter of the believer is the least that can be expected of those who have any true knowledge of gospel teaching.
Consider for a moment what ‘Sanctifier and Comforter’ means. To sanctify means to purify or make holy and so you can only have a saving belief in the Holy Spirit if you recognize your spiritual needs. A ‘saving belief,’ or the kind of belief that saves, is only possible if you recognize that you need saving.
Only an awareness of your sinfulness and helplessness can induce you to seek his holy influences. When the soul is thirsting for righteousness, when the over-burdened spirit is longing for the help of divine grace, then your belief in the Holy Spirit will prove to be something more than the simple expression of the lips. It will be the warm, and fervent, and effectual breathing of the renovated heart. When your belief is productive of such effects, only then does it conform to the rules of the gospel, and the requirements of the Church.
What is implied by the Holy Catholic Church? The Church is called holy because of the purity of its doctrines, the divine origin of its institutions, and the obedience and faithfulness of its members. It is called catholic, because it is universal, extending over the whole world, and embracing the entire body of true believers. Throughout the Scriptures, and in all our standards, as in the Nicene Creed, this Church is represented as One Catholic and Apostolic Church, as in perfect unity, under one system of doctrine, government and discipline, deriving its power from One who is head over all things to his Church, which is his body, depending on him for support and direction, and responsible to him for the faithfulness of its administration. Therefore when you say you believe in the Holy Catholic Church it means, you faithfully accept these things about the Church and will do all in your power to strengthen and maintain the peace within this community, with and in love and charity towards others.
Then you will see the Communion of Saints in which you profess to believe, as something more than an assorted gathering without harmony or consistency. You will consider the communion and fellowship of the faithful below, and of the saints above, as one and the same in essence, and differing only in degree. And you will feel the necessity of cherishing such a spirit of love and devotion in this world, that you may be acknowledged and identified as part and portion of the great assembly of the blessed in heaven.
Of the remaining articles of the Creed it is sufficient to say, that if you believe in Jesus Christ, as he is revealed in the Scriptures, as your Redeemer and Saviour, and final Judge, no room can be left for doubt on those points which are, of all others, most consoling to the Christian. Your belief in the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting will be perfect and complete. With the heart you will believe in the way that leads to righteousness, and with the mouth you will make the kind of confession that leads to salvation.
These then are the tests of your faith. And with these tests you may be perfectly satisfied. When you can stand up before God, and recite these articles of your belief, with the feelings and views which we have attempted to describe, you may enjoy all the comforts and supports of confiding and true-hearted disciples of Christ.
It will be sufficient for you to indulge the well-guarded hope that you possess the only faith that is essential to salvation; a faith that operates as an incentive and motive to right action, that leads to newness of heart and life, and willing obedience to the commands of God.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 6